Experts have spent the day decoding the long-awaited white paper on university reform. Key points include:

  • Universities will be allowed to increase fees in line with inflation if they meet the basic standards set out in the Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) in 2017-18 and 2018-19, before differentiated caps are introduced in 2019-20.
  • The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) will be merged with the Office for Students, within which fair access to education will be handled.
  • Universities will be able to charge up to £9,000 (rather than £6,000) in fees if they have implemented an access agreement.
  • Research councils and bodies will be brought under the umbrella of the newly created UK Research and Innovation, while maintaining the principle of “dual support” whereby block grants and research funding are provided from both higher education funding institutions and research councils, allowing researchers to pick and choose.
  • Assessment of universities will be based on measures including National Student Satisfaction (NSS) survey scores.
  • Minimum student requirement reduced to allow smaller institutions to class themselves as universities.
  • New providers to offer their own degrees immediately, on a probationary basis (subject to ongoing monitoring and annual reviews).

Here’s how the sector responded:On new providers: “Despite repeated warnings from UCU about the danger of opening up UK higher education to private, for-profit providers, the government is setting out on a clear course to privatise higher education. We have already seen too many scandals involving alternative providers in the UK and the US, so if we are to protect the global reputation enjoyed by our universities, lessons must be learned and rigorous quality measures applied before any new provider is allowed to access either degree awarding powers or state funding.”On the Tef: “It is hard to see how many of the measures which have been proposed for the teaching excellence framework (Tef) will either measure quality or improve it. UCU believes a critical weakness of our current system is the precarious employment of university teachers, 49% of whom are on insecure contracts.”On widening access: “The government must do more to address the persistent barriers to higher education for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We need tougher action on universities who are missing access targets, better support for part-time and mature study, and a national inquiry on our broken admissions system.”